Got an Email From my Niece

My sister’s daughter is buying a house. She wants to know how to choose a home inspector. Following is my response.

Ah: the age-old question and you want the spin of a renegade.

Compare Sample Reports

What does comparing sample reports do? It weeds out the nobodies—right? You’ll see through a report that says nothing or is so full of grammatical errors that you question the inspector’s educational background. Is your best inspector, though, someone with a career of getting his hands dirty rather than sitting in a classroom? You’ll recognize a report that is more or less difficult or easy to understand. Don’t be fooled, though, by the report that is full of a lot of important or interesting, but off topic information. Remember your purpose: to process information that will affect your home purchase decision. Maintenance tips, at this point, are noise. What is it? How old is it (within the context of life expectancy)? What’s its condition? What should I do about it? Is less more?

Compare Credentials

Most credentials available to home inspectors are pretty easy to get. A lot of credentials require that someone pay for a four-hour seminar. They may or may not be required to attend. A person can attain membership in a national association by taking a forty-hour class, passing a test and having six months of experience. Rather than membership in an association, I would want to know number of years of fulltime experience and number of inspections performed. To put it in perspective: 250 inspections a year for 10 years is 2,500 inspections. That is someone with some experience. 500 a year for 20 years is 10,000 inspections. That is a person with a lot of experience. 20,000 inspections in 30 years—that guy may be on the cusp of burn out.

Agent Recommendations

Look beyond what your agent suggests, but don’t discount it. Forty years ago, it was true that agents and inspectors were in conflict. Real estate brokers had, for decades, been in a position of power. They knew the process. They knew homes. Their incentive was to make this sale. In those days, a young couple bought a house, raised a family there, retired there and eventually went to live with their children as they aged out. The adult children sold Mom and Dad’s house to help offset Mom or Dad’s living expenses. Brokers didn’t give a lot of thought to repeat business. 10% of homes involved in a real estate transactions were inspected. When inspectors showed up, agents were ticked. “What do you think you’re doing coming around here telling these people the truth about this house?! You killed my deal.” In those days, both agents had fiduciary responsibility to the seller. Things have changed.

80% of homes involved in a real estate transaction are inspected. It’s part of the process.

People move every five to ten years. Agents build a career based on repeat business; they want satisfied clients. More importantly, though, agents have come to realize that inspectors both reduce the amount of liability and also insulate the agent from what liability there is. Because buyers are informed, there are fewer post-settlement surprises. If there are problems, the agent can say, “talk to your home inspector about that.” And now, with buyer brokerage, the legal landscape is completely changed. The agent who works with you actually works for you.

Agents now have incentive to have inspections and to choose good inspectors. The question becomes, what does an agent think is a good inspector. Most of them want someone who is going to take enough time to do the job right but is not going to waste time either on site or in the report.  They don’t want problems either before or after settlement. They want someone who is responsive if something goes wrong.

The question I always ask myself when someone suggests that buyer’s not trust the inspector working with the agent is, who is better equipped to know who the good inspectors are—someone who works with them every day, or someone who read an article that recommends that we not trust each other?

If we think about it, there are levels of integrity within our society—holier than though at one end and bottom-dwellers at the other. Both real estate professionals and home inspectors are a cross section of the culture. Logic tells me that equal percentages of each stratum are represented in each profession. Observation tells me that they find each other. Risk takers associate with risk takers. Conservatives associate with conservatives. The low-lifes find each other as well and, believe me, they’re out there—in both professions.  I think incompetency tends to attract incompetence as well.

How does that background information affect one’s interpretation of the traditional mantra?

Don’t trust the inspector recommended by your agent because there is an inherent conflict of interest in that the agent is incented by the commission and the inspector who discloses the defects is likely to interfere with the transaction, so agents are inclined toward inspectors who are going to candy-coat their findings.

I don’t buy it anymore. I work with a number of agents who take good care of their clients by recommending competent professionals. If you don’t trust the recommendations of your agent, go find an agent that you trust.

Published by Hollis

Home Inspector :: Inspector Trainer

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